This week of course saw the passing of the great Eric Hobsbawm, and you might be wondering what all the fuss was about. Well, on one level he was the last of the post-war historians who changed our view of the discipline, and wore their politics on their sleeve. On another, it was his natural gift with words as shown above. As an A Level student I can remember my history teacher explaining what Hobsbawm meant by the “long Nineteenth Century” – he considered the period 1789 to 1914 as one. It is a phrase that has never left me.
But above all, he was, as Niall Ferguson argues here “a truly great historian”. He continues that “I continue to believe that his great tetralogy – The Age of Revoultion (1962), The Age of Industry (1975) The Age of Empire (1987) and The Age of Extremes (1994) – remains the best introduction to modern world history in the English language.”
Such praise is noteworthy given the very different politics of the two men. Ferguson is right of centre, whilst Hobsbawm was a Marxist – in his own words in 2002 he stated that “the dream of the October Revolution is still there somewhere within me”. There is a nice selection of his work from the Guardian here , and a BBC obituary here . If you would like to read something less complimentary, then A.N. Wilson’s view of Hobsbawm (in the Daily Mail) is here .